Lights, Camera, Anxiety!!

When the camera is on you, do you feel a certain sense of anxiety, stress, nervousness, or maybe even a little sweat dripping from your forehead?

Recently, the World Campus wanted to film a video of my study habits and ways that I overcome test anxiety. I instantly said “yes,” anything to help my university and fellow Penn Staters. However, I tend to be a little shy when it comes to being in front of the camera. So although I was excited, I was also a little anxious.

I was asked by my adviser to consider being filmed for a video to be posted (stay tuned!) on my lifestyle and the impact of making time to study to do well in my courses. We actually joke about my being a “Type A Stress Student”, so I was both flattered and scared at the thought of all this. On the other hand, I love to have photos taken of me, so I thought this would be fun. All was good until I thought about the filming, and the butterflies started to flutter around in my stomach.

I met with my adviser and the director, James—he was just wonderful—at the World Campus office to discuss my background, study habits, and most comfortable setting for me to take exams. We bonded immediately and I told him that I would be nervous just appearing before the camera, and I also let him know that I would need two days notice so that I could clean up the condo (my two year old is nicknamed “The Hurricane”) and get my hair and nails done. Most of the time when I take my exams I barely get out of my pajamas, peel the polish off my fingernails from nervousness, and wear a baseball cap because I could care less about my hair during a final!!!

The film crew (and yes, my adviser would be there to hold my hand) wanted real life video of what my day is like, and the distractions involved when getting my studies completed. So they decided to include the biggest distraction—my husband Dion (who was absolutely horrible at taking direction from James once the camera started rolling – can you say “Deer in Headlights”????). They also filmed the moment that “The Hurricane” came home from school, which is normally an explosion of joy and happiness at seeing me. Of course, while the camera was rolling, she completely played down our daily moment and froze up with all the equipment and new friends in the house.

The crew then shot my workout with my personal trainer, Rachel Rajkowski (what’s up, girl?) in our hallway. I cannot tell you how much of a stress reliever exercise is before studying or test taking. For me, it gets my heart rate up so that by the time I am ready to take a test, I am more relaxed and in “cool down mode.”

The crew setting up around my house.
The crew setting up around my house.

Day 1 of filming was over. Let’s just say none of us would be winning an Oscar for our performances.

James and Mark (the crew) came back with my adviser two weeks later to really get to the heart of the video: the interview. No matter how prepared I was to discuss my study habits and test taking routine, I was outwardly nervous. I made sure Dion was at work for this filming, so as not to add to my anxiety.

Things were going well until I discussed my most comfortable area to take my exam. It is our dining room table, and the chair I sit in faces my “Believe” wall. This wall is my inspiration. There are four plaques that have the word “Believe” mentioned in them, a picture of Coach Joe Paterno with his famous “Believe deep down in your heart you are destined to do great things” quote, and my Alpha Sigma Lambda certificate, which is the Adult Student National Honor Society I was inducted into in May 2010. This area of the wall is where I get my inspiration and drive to do well when getting ready to take an exam. I feel so confident with this ritual, and draw from each of the mementoes to overcome my test anxiety.

The word “Believe” has become our family motto; it has guided my family through adversity; and personally gives me the power to score well on exams.

It was during this discussion that James asked a silly question: “What does believe mean to you?” Pretty tame and harmless, right? Well, it opened up all the years of emotional triumph over test anxiety, and the floodgates from my eyes could not stop the stream of tears running down my face. I couldn’t speak or make out a sentence. James could see I could not continue and stopped rolling the camera. My adviser, who I had forgotten was in the condo, came over to console me. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure. My makeup was ruined.

I can’t wait to see the finished product, and hope that you all take a moment to watch it, now knowing what took place behind the scenes.

Oh, before I forget, I learned many years ago in my Public Relations career that caramels and peppermint tea are very good at soothing the nerves before a public speaking engagement. So stock up on the candy and tea and score well!!!!!

We Are, and Always will be, Penn State.